Philippines-China tension eases

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippines' Interior Secretary Mar Roxas met with China's leader-in-waiting on Friday and told him that Manila hoped to have friendly relations with Beijing and overcome difficulties caused by a territorial row in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said he appreciated President Benigno Aquino III's sending Roxas as special envoy to China's trade fair with Southeast Asian nations in Nanning City and promised to relay the Philippine leader's message of peace to Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Aquino missed meeting with Hu during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders' summit in Vladivostok, Russia, earlier this month because of conflicts in their schedules.

But the Chinese side asked the Philippine government to send a special envoy to the China-Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo, indicating they wanted to mend relations after tensions caused by a two-month maritime standoff at a disputed shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Aquino sent Roxas to China to meet with Xi and ask the Chinese vice president to relay his original message for Hu at the Apec summit: that the Philippines wanted to maintain good relations with China and that it was working on a peaceful resolution of the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

Exchange of views

Roxas arrived in Nanning on Thursday and met with Xi, widely expected to take over from Hu in a leadership change next year, after the opening of the expo on Friday.

"We had a frank and candid exchange of views and I am satisfied that I was able to faithfully convey President Aquino's message," Roxas said in a statement released by the Palace yesterday.

"The discussions were constructive and the talks were conducted in a cordial atmosphere," presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.

The meeting focused on the "current outstanding issues between the two countries, and other dimensions of their bilateral relationship," Lacierda said.

Xi said Aquino's decision to send a special envoy to the trade fair showed the importance he "attaches to Philippines-China relations," according to Lacierda.

He said Xi promised to bring Aquino's message to Hu. Xi also responded to the matters raised by Roxas and Roxas promised to convey the matters raised by Xi to Aquino, Lacierda said.

Lacierda, Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio and Charg? d'Affaires Alex Chua of the Philippine Embassy accompanied Roxas to the meeting.

Recovery of ties

China's official news agency Xinhua on Friday quoted Xi as telling Roxas he hoped ties hurt by a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea could recover.

Trouble flared in April when vessels from the two countries faced off with each other at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a rich fishing ground within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Both sides later agreed to withdraw their vessels, defusing some of the tension.

"I hope this [situation] will not appear again and again, allowing bilateral relations to return to the track of normal development," Xinhua quoted Xi as saying at his meeting with Roxas.

"China-Philippine relations have encountered some difficulties. However, through effective communication between the two sides, the situation has already eased," Xi said.

Philippine defence officials acknowledge that tensions in the West Philippine Sea have eased, but they say Chinese vessels remain at Panatag Shoal.

"This is one of the reasons why Secretary Roxas went there. There's a slight easing of tensions. There's a chance for Secretary Roxas to build on this easing of tensions," Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang said on Friday.

Xinhua quoted Roxas as telling Xi that the Philippines hoped to have friendly ties with China and overcome current difficulties.

Overlapping claims

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, including parts now known as West Philippine Sea, which is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and gas, is a rich fishing ground, and is home to shipping lanes vital to global trade.

But the Philippines, Brunei Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea, some of them overlapping.

In his opening speech at the trade fair on Friday, Xi sought to assure Southeast Asian leaders that China wanted peaceful relations with them, and wanted a peaceful resolution of its territorial disputes with its neighbours.

He said China was committed to "common development and steadily improving cooperation mechanisms in various fields."

With two-way trade growing 20 per cent annually to US$362.8 billion last year, China and its southern neighbours are increasingly intertwined, Xi said.

In Manila, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in an interview on dzRB radio yesterday the Palace would disclose the details of the meeting after Roxas had made a report to the president.

She could not say, however, when Roxas would return to Manila.

With reports from AP and AFP

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